In February 2010 New Zealand graphic designer Tana Mitchell, then resident in Berlin, discovered an expansive collection of letterpress type in the basement of the Druckwerkstatt im Kulturwerk des BBK.

Dusty, neglected and mostly unused, the BBK letterpress type collection consists of a vast and incomprehensible collection of metal and wooden letterpress type. Often unlabeled and incomplete, the collection comprised various fonts, from 6point and up, with a range of decorative & display typefaces. The Druckwerkstatt im Kulturwerk des BBK has a fully functioning printing press and with this Mitchell began printing, accounting for and making sense of the collection, with her own somewhat arbitrary methodology. Likening her activity to that of an entomologist in the field, the BBK typographic collection became the habitat from which Mitchell gathered her specimens.


Restricting the specimens to 18 point and above, she began with A, working alphabetically through to Z. The resulting suite of prints, each capturing a single letter in various forms, offers a visual rather than a linear logic. Each letter, and subsequently each font, is removed from its taxonomic register - detached from its own internal logic. The suite, and individual prints, are unconcerned with dating, naming or contextualizing each font, but attempt to graphically present them as visual forms. Aside from the logic of having a specific letter of the alphabet on each print, each composition was dictated by the type - how the variety of forms and characteristics could fit together - piece by piece like a puzzle. Each print contains both differing and recurring typefaces, with the same fonts emerging at regular intervals. The result is a suite of type specimens from A to Z.


In the process of making and souveniring, Mitchell made her own typographical collection and this suite is a resource for her own typographic research. The making of these works offered a way of spending time with letter forms, of having a physical connection to them, of manoeuvring them in physical space. This suite is a collection from which she is able to glean and gather typographic ideas.


This exhibition is part of Art Week Auckland 2011.

Tana Mitchell, Type Specimen: O, 2010.

Tana Mitchell, Type Specimen: G, 2010.